How Long Does Nicotine Stay In Your System?

By Dr. Annie Macpherson
Updated: 2019-12-11

Introduction

Nicotine is the addictive substance in tobacco. Whenever you smoke, use nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs), or inhale secondhand smoke, you are introducing nicotine into your body.

Nicotine will remain in different parts of your body for different amounts of time after you quit smoking. The amount of time nicotine remains in your system is highly dependent on a variety of factors. When people want to know the amount of time tobacco stays in their system, they are generally referring to their nicotine levels.

In this article, we’ve summarised the factors that control how much time nicotine stays in your system, as well as how quickly it is cleared from different parts of your body.

How Nicotine Enters and Leaves Your Body

Nicotine enters your bloodstream via the lungs when you smoke or vape, via skin when you use nicotine patches, and gums when you chew nicotine gum. Once in the bloodstream, it travels to the brain where it has its addictive effects.

At the same time, nicotine in the bloodstream will travel to the liver, where it is broken down into over 20 different metabolites, including cotinine, anabasine, and nornicotine. This process is controlled by several liver enzymes, including CYP2A6 [1,2].

Nicotine and its breakdown products are passed into your kidneys from the liver, to be excreted over time in your urine. Autopsy samples from smokers reveal that nicotine is stored mostly in the liver, kidney, and lungs. Nicotine also binds to the brain with very high affinity [3].

How Long Will Traces of Nicotine be Present in Your Blood?

Nicotine has a half-life in your bloodstream of roughly 2 hours – after 2 hours you will have half the nicotine in your bloodstream that you had when you initially ingested it. Regular smoking all day will result in high levels of nicotine in your bloodstream, for up to 8 hours after your last cigarette [4].

Dependent on how much you smoke, nicotine stays detectable in your bloodstream for 1 to 3 days.

Cotinine levels will remain stable in the bloodstream for up to 16 hours, and trace levels are detectable in blood for several weeks, making it a reliable marker of nicotine intake [3]. The amount of cotinine in your body is proportionate to the amount of nicotine you ingest over a longer period, and it can reach very high levels in your blood, as it takes much longer to be broken down than nicotine.

How Long Will Traces of Nicotine be Present in Your Urine?

The half-life of nicotine in urine is about 11 hours [5], although it is detectable in urine at nano-trace levels for several weeks. If you smoke infrequently, cotinine will usually be detectable in urine for about four days.

  • In heavy and long term smokers, cotinine may take up to three weeks to fully clear from urine.

How Long Will Nicotine be Present in Your Saliva and Hair?

Nicotine is incorporated into your hair as it grows, and will remain in your hair for up to one year after your last exposure. Nicotine binds better to dark hair than to blonde or white hair.

  • Nicotine and cotinine can take up to four days to be fully flushed from your saliva.

What Factors Influence How Long Traces of Nicotine Will Be Present in Your System?

A lot of factors influence the amount of time nicotine will remain in your body. In light users, the body can be 99% nicotine free after several days, but in heavy smokers (people who smoke consistently on a daily basis), nicotine breakdown products may be detectable for up to a year in your hair.

Other factors that influence nicotine clearance include:

If You Smoke Menthol Cigarettes

  • Menthol cigarettes have been shown to slow nicotine metabolism and clearance by 10% [7]. There is no research yet available on menthol flavoured e cigarettes.

Age

  • On average, people over 65 can take 23% longer to clear nicotine fully from their liver [8]. Researchers think this is because older people have slower blood flow to the liver.

Gender

  • Nicotine clearance is on average 13% faster in women than in men [9].

Race

  • Research suggests that Asians and Africans will metabolise nicotine much more slowly than their Caucasian and Hispanic counterparts [10].

Genetics

  • Variations in CYP2A6 function will affect how quickly someone can metabolize nicotine to cotinine. People with highly efficient variants of CYP2A6 will experience tougher nicotine withdrawal symptoms and are likely to smoke more cigarettes, as nicotine is removed from their system more quickly [11].

Medication

  • Medications that speed up nicotine metabolism include:
    1. Rifadin – a strong antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis and meningitis
    2. Phenobarbital – a sedative used for anxiety, insomnia and seizures
    3. Oral Contraceptives – contraceptives increase both nicotine and cotinine clearance by roughly 30% in women [9].

    Medications that slow nicotine metabolism include:

    1. Ketoconazole – an antifungal used for athlete’s foot
    2. Amlodipine – a blood pressure medication

Can you Clear Nicotine from Your Body?

How quickly nicotine is cleared from your body is highly dependent on how much you smoked before and things you cannot change, such as age and genetics. But there are some things that can be done to help your body rid itself of nicotine more quickly:

  • Stop ingesting nicotine from cigarettes and NRTs
  • Drink lots of water to help your flush nicotine from your kidneys and saliva
  • Drink fluids known to improve kidney function, like green tea and cranberry juice
  • Eat fresh vegetables and fruits, in particular ones high in vitamin C. Fruit and vegetables are high in antioxidants which can speed up the detoxification process and accelerate your metabolism.
  • More exercise! Increased blood circulation helps your body get rid of nicotine through sweat, and by accelerating your metabolism.
  • Eat foods that promote bile production to help liver function. Garlic, egg yolks, and onions are known bile producers.
  • Avoid going to places where people are smoking

Nicotine Withdrawal

Nicotine withdrawal is what a smoker feels as the nicotine in their body decreases. Symptoms can be intense and usually last several days before they decrease in severity. Severity of symptoms and their duration are also highly dependent on several factors, including how long you’ve been smoking, how much you smoked every day, and your genetic predisposition to nicotine addiction [1,2].

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Shakes
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Depression and irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Cravings

Cutting down smoking, or using NRTs such as patches and e-cigarettes, can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and increase the likelihood of you quitting successfully. Using NRTs will mean you still have nicotine in your system until you stop ingesting nicotine altogether.

In this article, we’ve looked at the factors that influence nicotine clearance, as well as how quickly nicotine is cleared from the different parts of the body. The way the body breaks down nicotine, and the time it takes to fully clear it from the body, is highly individual and dependent on many lifestyle and genetic factors. The statistics in this article are a rough guideline and can differ hugely between individuals, dependent on individual circumstances.

You can help clear the body of nicotine by making healthy lifestyle choices –

Must do:

  • Eating plenty of fresh fruit
  • Eating plenty of vegetables
  • Drinking more water
  • Regular exercise

We hope this answers the question of “How Long does Nicotine Stays in your System?”.

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Dr. Annie Macpherson
Dr. Annie Macpherson

Annie has a PhD in Genome Stability from the University of Sussex. She has first-hand experience in cancer and human disease research. This allows her to provide us with new and unbiased insights into the ongoing research of the public and health effects of vaping. She loves an adventure, and has travelled through South East Asia and Australia working for Vaping Insider.